OFW departures pick up, shows need for jobs defies COVID
MANILA, Philippines—The COVID-19 pandemic has crushed the country’s migration flow and has displaced many overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs).
However, as the Philippines and other countries loosen travel restrictions, the deployment of OFWs has been slowly improving this year.
According to Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) director Levinson Alcantara, there has been a “steady growth of deployment” for both land-based and sea-based workers before the pandemic hit the country.
POEA’s latest data showed that there were a total of 1,595,414 land-based workers and 449,463 sea-based workers deployed in 2017. Meanwhile, there were 1,649,487 land-based workers and 448,102 sea-based workers deployed in 2018.
Preliminary data for 2019 showed that 1,649,012 deployed land-based workers and a larger figure for deployed sea-based workers at 507,730.
“But that picture drastically changed when 2020 set in and COVID-19 pandemic prevented people from moving about internally within the country and to countries of destination where they should have been working,” said Alcantara at an online press conference on Thursday (Nov. 11).
Based on a year-on-year comparison, there was a 74.51 percent total reduction in the number of Filipinos deployed overseas from 2,156,742 in 2019 to 549,841 in 2020.
However, POEA noted that the numbers have moved up during the first nine months of 2021—with 539,140 deployed land-based and sea-based workers, around 98 percent of the total deployed workers in the whole year of 2020.
“I would shy away from comparing 2020 to 2021 because the year has not yet been completed,” said Alcantara.
“Suffice to say, up until September of 2021, we are almost about to breach the whole of 2020 level of deployment,” he continued.
A year-on-year comparison for the total deployed sea-based workers from 2019 to 2020 showed that there was a 57.22 decrease recorded last year.
In 2019, there were a total of 507,730 sea-based workers deployed. The following year, it went down to 217,223.
“There has been quite a remarkable recovery, especially on the part of the sea-based sector, with their workers declared as essential global workers and therefore facilitated issuances have been provided so that crew change, as well as disembarkation, are made easier for the sector,” the POEA director said.
“That reflects a positive turnout for the deployment of our overseas seafarers,” he added.
From January to September this year, there were already 270,710 deployed seafarers—a 24.61 percent increase compared to the total deployed sea-based workers last year.
“Happy to note that in the current year, up until the month of September, we have already breached the 2020 level of deployment. There seems to be a faster initial recovery in terms of deployment from the sea-based sector,” said Alcantara.
The total deployed land-based workers had decreased by 79.83 percent from 1,649,012 in 2019 to 332,618 in 2020. However, it has been slowly rising in 2021.
“Until the ninth month of the current year also, there has been a modest but steady stream of deployment for our land-based sector workers because up until September we are already up to 268,430,” Alcantara said.
Raring to return overseas
A study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) United Nations Migration detailed that by the end of 2020, the Philippines saw an unprecedented number of repatriation—a total of 791,623.
Citing figures from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), IOM said in a report that at least 481,305 repatriated Filipinos had land-based jobs abroad. At least 308,332 had been working on ships. At least 1,986 were brought home from Sabah.
The IOM report said the DFA brought back 327,511 OFWs who had land-based jobs which was 71 percent of total repatriation. At least 95,974 were those who had jobs in 150 cruise ships, oil tankers and other cargo vessels.
Data by the DFA as of Aug. 7 showed that a total of 408,911 Filipinos have been sent home during the pandemic. Of these, at least 105,607 had been working on ships and 303,304 were land-based.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) estimated that a total of 502,581 OFWs returned to the Philippines either after losing their jobs or for fear of getting stranded by the pandemic or both.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana gave higher estimates of the reverse diaspora. He said as of June 28, more than 1 million Filipinos had been repatriated or had returned to the Philippines since the pandemic struck.
As of June 28, Lorenzana said a total of 1,237,186 overseas Filipinos have been repatriated—1,005,885 OFWs and 231,301 Filipino residents of foreign countries.
Of the OFWs, 591,956 are land-based and 413,929 are sea-based.
Still out of the 8,332 OFW returnees, who were surveyed by the IOM, nearly half or 48 percent said they plan to re-migrate abroad while two percent expressed an interest in internal migration.
IOM detailed that out of those who aim to work overseas again, the prevalence was higher among males and sea-based workers, with 53 percent and 63 percent.
Female returnees and land-based workers, on the other hand, were more likely to consider internal migration than males, but are likely to stay at home.
Based on the study, these are the following countries where OFWs aspired to return to work:
- Taiwan – 80 percent
- Japan – 78 percent
- United States – 78 percent
- Singapore – 71 percent
OFWs looking to re-migrate to a new country chose the following:
- New Zealand – 98 percent
- Canada – 95 percent
“Meanwhile, the country with the least preference for return to work was Kuwait with only 59 percent of OFWs intending to return,” IOM said.
“This had an overrepresentation of females at 72 percent, reflecting the large amount of female OFWs returning from Kuwait,” it added.
“Of interest, 44 percent of all OFW returnees from Kuwait preferred to stay in the Philippines post-return with a higher representation of females at 74 percent not wanting to re-migrate.”
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